An Unusual History of World War II

December 1941:  31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World.  Craig Shirley.  Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2011.  ISBN 978-1-59555-457-4.  Illustrations.  Notes & References.  Bibliography.  Index.  Pp. x, 645.  $24.99.
 Mr. Shirley's volume is a combination of narrative history and historical chronology that both intrigued and disappointed me.  Although the concept was an interesting way of looking at one of the most crucial months in American history, it left me feeling like it was incomplete, partly as a result of the nature of the book, but also because I think the book had some historical possibilities unmet.

First, the book was an excellent account of military, political, social, and economic happenings during the crucial month.  What really jumped out at me were the eerie similarities to how America reacted after December 7 with how the nation reacted after September 11.  There was mass hysteria, rumors galore, and a general flailing about by the military and government to do something to reassure a scared populace.  Of course, there were also many things done in 1941 that would have made MSNBC and the ACLU explode 70 years later.  Mass numbers of Japanese, Germans, and Italians were detained without trial or due process in "concentration camps" throughout the US and the FBI routinely conducted mass arrests in those communities in the three weeks after Pearl Harbor.  Can you imagine the same thing happening in the Islamic or Hispanic Community today? Needless to say, there was nary a peep from anyone then, and in fact, most Americans welcomed the arrests as a necessary part of the war effort.

Shriley also captures the naive belief that Americans had that the global conflagration could somehow pass them by, just as the US buried our heads in the sand about Islamofacism for the decade prior to 9/11.  Finally the cultural aspects of the book were pretty interesting, especially the pop culture aspects that described the shopping, entertainment and general life of Americans prior to December 7.

However, Shirley reports the numerous news stories without really balancing out what REALLY happened, which was significantly different from what the public was told.  The truth of Pearl Harbor was successfully kept from Americans for some time, and Shirley gives a good sense of how the media and government collaborated in wartime censorship (something else MSNBC, CNN, NYT and most of the modern liberal media would implode about), there were other items that were reported as fact, mostly to keep up morale, that weren't true.  Capt. Colin Kelly  did not sink a Japanese (or Jap, as it was known before PC) battleship, and the Philippines Campaign was in fact, a much bigger fiasco than most Americans knew until after the war.  Shirley is quite correct in his assertion that Douglas MacArthur should have probably been court martialed along with Kimmel and Short and only escaped because the press loved him and turned him into the hero that FDR needed in those long weeks after the war, when everything was going badly for the US.  A postscript or some footnotes that told the real facts would have been welcome, as would the usual maps that I hold so dear to history books.

Overall, this is a fine example of popular history, although not as academic and complete as I would have liked, but it's a fine snapshot into how Americans lived, died and changed forever in one of the most crucial months in our history.